Viet Nam News
By Bích Hường
It was with considerable fanfare and expectations that authorities introduced a law on littering in the capital city earlier this year.
The law imposes much stiffer punishments in an effort to clean up the city’s streets and surroundings.
In this context, it is difficult to imagine that instead of the person or persons who do the littering, it is the person cleaning up that gets punished, and badly so.
A sanitation worker was beaten unconscious last week for asking a street vendor not to litter the street.
Trần Thị Thanh, a worker with the Hà Nội Urban Environment Company (URENCO) began her working shift last Thursday night in Hà Nội’s Old Quarter.
On seeing a sugarcane juice seller on the sidewalk littering the street, Thanh asked the vendor to stop it. The vendor, 32-year-old Phạm Thị Bích Diệp of Hoàn Kiếm District, took offence.
She called her husband to follow and ‘teach’ the sanitation worker a lesson.
The couple followed Thanh to Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street and assaulted her badly, causing her to faint.
This is not a common occurrence, but it is an extreme one that should wake us up to the fact that we sorely lack public awareness and civic sense.
Many people seem to have the attitude that keeping the streets clean is the job of sanitation workers and that they have a right to litter.
Trần Thị Kim Nhung, a sanitation worker, said that she has witnessed many times people littering the street with chewing gum, empty bottles and plastic bags even when there are trash bins nearby.
Households and street food/ drink stalls are used to littering pavements and many people get annoyed if sanitation workers ask them put garbage in the right places, Nhung said.
Đặng Kim Anh, another sanitation worker in Hoàn Kiếm District, told the Lao động (Labour) newspaper that she and her colleagues felt pain on hearing about what happened to Thanh.
“We do a hard, dirty job manually. Some start a working day early in the morning, others finish very late in the night (or next morning),” Kim Anh said, adding that they have to work even more on days that other people enjoy holidays or celebrate special occasions.
“More activities, more parties, more garbage,” she said.
“Many people understand and express sympathy with us, but some people don’t. Some are annoyed, especially when we remind them litter in the right places,” she said.
According to the Hà Nội Construction Planning Institute, about 54,000 tonnes of domestic solid waste is produced daily in the city including 3,200 tonnes in the inner city districts and towns.
However, with its current treatment capacity, only 3,900 tonnes are collected and taken carried to waste treatment facilities including landfills.
Early this year, in first few days of March, people in some districts of Hà Nội, including Nam Từ Liêm, Cầu Giấy and Mê Linh, had to suffer a mountain of stinking waste in their neighbourhoods.
The waste was uncollected because the city had changed the company responsible for collecting it.
Just a couple of days of not collecting was enough for the garbage to lay siege to houses and roads. Daily life became unbearable, and fears grew of spreading diseases and other unwelcome developments.
One would think that such incidents would make us appreciate the immense value of the work done by sanitation workers, and be grateful for the work that they do.
Since February this year, when Government Decree 155/2016/NĐ-CP took effect, the city is expected to impose fines of VNĐ3 million (US$133) to VNĐ7 million ($313) on those littering in public spaces, including pavements, streets or sewage systems in residential areas.
Sanitation worker Kim Anh said they have been able to see some difference after the Decree took effect, but littering was still widespread.
Few people are fined for littering and others expect that “sanitation workers will come and clean the garbage,” he said.
When Việt Nam News ran the story “Public awareness key to littering law success” in February, a reader commented: “A visitor to Việt Nam can only conclude that Vietnamese people hate children, with the way they are destroying the living environment, with toxic plastic in the sea, soil, and burning it in the air!”
It was sad to hear this, and sadder still to hear about Thanh’s fate. I hope this incident galvanizes people into taking real action to keep the city clean and protect our sanitation workers.
After seeing the news, my 6-year-old niece asked me why someone beat the sanitation worker. She’s always been taught to put garbage in the trash bins be grateful to those who keep the streets clean.
I don’t have an answer for her. — VNS